In late September the moon will experience a total lunar eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes entirely through the earth’s shadow. The earth’s shadow casts an orange hue upon the moon, causing the moon to appear reddish-orange in the night sky. This unusual appearance has led some to call it a “blood moon.”
Lunar eclipses occur at irregular but predictable intervals. The earth can go long periods without witnessing a total lunar eclipse. For example, the earth went 300 years during the 17th-19th centuries without experiencing a single blood moon. On the other hand, since the dawn of the 21st century, total lunar eclipses have been fairly common, with nine blood moons having already appeared in just the past decade.
In fact, over a two-year period, beginning in April 2014, North America will have experienced four such blood moons. Three occurrences have already come and gone, and the final one will occur in the final week of September 2015.
The recent increase of blood moons has led students and scholars alike to speculate whether these occurrences are the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy concerning the last days. Specifically, they point to the words of the prophet Joel, who declared that red moons would mark the end of the age:
Joel says that the Lord will turn the moon to blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord. Contrary to some teaching, the phrase "great and awesome day of the Lord" does not refer to Jesus' Second Coming. Instead, it refers to the seven-year Tribulation on earth foretold by Daniel and the other prophets. The Tribulation goes by many different names in both the Old and New Testaments, including the “day of the Lord” or the “great and terrible day of the Lord."
Joel says that the moon turning into blood will be one of the signs that Tribulation is near. This sign is notably different than the signs the world will experience during the Tribulation. During the seven-year period of Tribulation, both the sun and the moon will be darkened so that neither gives light upon the earth. Multiple prophets mention this dual darkening, including Jesus Himself in Matthew 24.
But Joel quite clearly declares that the sun will go dark (perhaps an eclipse), but the moon will turn red like blood (also an eclipse). These signs mark the approach of Tribulation, not the Tribulation itself.
So are these ongoing lunar eclipses a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy?
Before we answer, we should consider one additional, curious detail. The four blood moon eclipses of 2014-2015 occur on April 15, 2014, October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015. These dates are significant in the Jewish calendar. The Spring dates in April coincide with Passover in each year, which is the first feast on the Jewish calendar year. The Autumn dates in October and September coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles, the final feast on the Jewish calendar.
The first feast of Passover commemorates the exodus of Israel out of slavery, and it pictures Jesus’ death on the cross for the sins of Israel and the world. The final annual feast of Tabernacles remembers Israel’s wandering in the desert, but it pictures their arrival in the Kingdom. Together they represent the beginning and the end of God's plan of redemption for His people.
It's not unusual to experience a lunar eclipse in conjunction with a Jewish feast since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar and the start of some feasts are tied to the moon's phases. In fact, a lunar tetrad (i.e., four total lunar eclipses spaced six months apart) occurring in conjunction with these two Jewish feasts is not unprecedented either. This pattern has occurred at least 8 times in the past 2,100 years.
Still, given the sudden prevalence of full lunar eclipses and their alignment with significant Jewish feasts, Bible scholars wonder if we're witnessing the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. Do they indicate the approach of Tribulation and the other events associated with the end of the Age? Or are they meaningless?
If these moons were appearing absent other prophetic fulfillment, then we would be justified in dismissing them as inconclusive, but they are not isolated signs. Numerous other significant end times signs have been fulfilled over the past century or are being fulfilled today, including two world wars (fulfilling Matt 24:7), the reemergence of Israel in her land (Matt 24:32), the increasing frequency of earthquakes and famines (Luke 21:11), and the apostasy of the church (2Thess 2:3). (You can learn more about the signs of the end in our Revelation study.)
Taken together, all signs point to the approaching end of this age, and in light of this growing body of evidence, we believe it's reasonable to conclude that the coming lunar eclipses (along with those of the past century) are fulfilling Joel's prophecy. Notice that other signs in Joel's prophecy have yet to be fulfilled, so we are not suggesting that these eclipses mean the Tribulation is imminent, only that it is approaching.
Nevertheless, the world and even many Christians will fail to heed these signs, as Jesus warned in His day:
Jesus criticized the unbelieving Pharisees for their unwillingness to recognize the obvious signs He was showing them. Ironically, Jesus chose as His analogy the practice of predicting the weather by watching atmospheric signs in the sky. While the Pharisees could detect subtle changes in the heavens and predict weather patterns, they were unable (i.e., unwilling) to recognize clear and unmistakable signs that the Messiah had come.
Likewise, today men will take note of the rare appearance of these moons, the unique alignment with important Jewish feasts and the prophecy given in Joel, yet will walk away unconvinced. We are called to live with eyes for eternity, so we can recognize these signs and be prepared for our Lord’s return. As Jesus said:
If you're interested in learning more about the signs of the times, consider listening to our Revelation Bible study available in our Bible Studies section.